Runa Peru

July 17, 2012

Perhaps the happiest surprise we came upon in Montero is a wonderful non-profit focused on mentally and physically disabled people in and around town. The organization, Runa Peru, is funded by a group in England and run by a woman there (Myrtle) and a man here (Ernesto). They have a few other staff people and a steady stream of volunteers, mostly from England.

Ernesto is the heart of the organization, convinced that this is his calling, even though he has no formal medical training. They have a small, clean building filled with physical therapy equipment, much of which Ernesto built or commissioned, an upstairs living area where Ernesto and the volunteers sleep and a play area for local kids. They have a basic schedule that involves in-office therapy on M, W, and F for those people who live close by or are able to travel into town. On Tues and Thurs, the team goes into the field and visits housebound folks. Runa Peru has no transportation, so these trips often involve walking for hours and visiting one or two people and then walking back to town. On M, W, and F afternoons, Ernesto hosts Mini Club, an afterschool activity open to all kids.

We were welcomed immediately into the Runa Peru family. On the first day, Ella went to girls-only Mini Club for some nail painting. The next Mini Club our family joined turned into subjects for a portrait session.

But the best (for us) was yet to come. After two months of what has essentially been vacation (we’ve certainly consumed much more than we’ve produced), we were able to help out just a little bit. On one of the Tuesday trips into the field, we joined a big group of New Orleans high schoolers and their chaperones on a mission to build an adobe bed for an autistic adult named Gualberto. Gualberto lived in a family of men only (brother who was unable to work, farmer dad, uncle, and grandfather), in a home that is a two-hour walk from town. The family sold a few bananas and a bit of sugarcane and their poverty was crushing. All of the men were emaciated and their living conditions were heartbreaking. Our goal was to take the small bedroom shared by the brothers and improve it slightly to separate Gualberto’s sleeping area from his toilet. His current bed consists of a tin roof panel covered in a rough blanket with another blanket for warmth.

After two months of what has essentially been vacation, we were able to help out just a little bit.

The teens did an awesome job digging clay from the hill adjacent to the bedroom and fashioning an 8” high platform at the back of the bedroom. At the end of the day, the heavy work was complete and we walked back down to town for a well-earned dinner at Paucar, our favorite haunt.

A week later, Ernesto and I walked back up to Gualberto’s to continue working on the “bed." We removed the crude forms, squared off the riser and covered the riser with wet clay to elimate cracks. After wetting down the top of the bed, we put a skim coat of concrete over the entire bed. In the near future, a thicker concrete coat will be added.

As a result of our clay excavation, we created an area big enough to build a small outhouse that hopefully Gualberto can learn to use. This whole activity really shows both the power and limitations of Ernesto and Runa Peru. They are ill-equipped to treat many of the problems they see, but by keeping in touch and caring deeply for all in their community, they can identify basic needs and intervene in tough circumstances, protecting those that can’t protect themselves.

When I first arrived in Montero, I mentioned to Myrtle that I was an engineer and she got excited about me helping Ernesto on a project that he and a physical therapist volunteer, Sarah, were keen to start on. It was the design and construction of a standing frame used to help CP sufferers stand upright and improve muscle strength and connective tissue elasticity. It is essentially a weldment with velcro straps used to stabilize the joints. Sarah had an example of one that she hoped to reverse engineer. I had enough time and the right tools to create a solid model and some drawings for Ernesto to fabricate, purchase and assemble from. We talked about the fabrication methods and raw materials he could easily get his hands on, and I modified the design in the picture to accommate these simpler materials. After some simple tip calculations and some fun on the computer, I was able to provide this design to Ernesto. Hopefully, I didn’t make too many mistakes, but unfortunately we are going to be Stateside by the time it is built. I guess that’s the life of a consultant sometimes.

Editor's note: Jesse Darley, director of mechanical engineering, is currently on sabbatical from Design Concepts traveling throughout Peru with his family. Their amazing adventure began in May, 2012, and will come to a close in August, 2012. Along the way, we've asked Jesse to share stories of his experiences, including a couple of engineering challenges he's experienced along the way.